The bridge burned down last season.
In almost every imaginable way, Chandler Parsons’ first season as a member of the Memphis Grizzlies was a disaster. The key free agent signing that was supposed to connect the end of one era and the beginning of another one never manifested last year. He wasn’t healthy, wasn’t producing much on the court, and was frustrating fans off of it. He was as close to a bust as you can possibly be.
That’s the bad news. The good news is, he looks ready to contribute and at least be close to the player the Grizzlies brought him in to be. This season, that level of scoring and distribution that should come from someone who should be your third best player will be needed as Memphis adapts to the most impactful roster changes that it has seen in almost a decade. He needs to be what he was signed to be...or else it will be a disaster for the team, not just Parsons.
Not to beat a dead horse, but Chandler was really bad last year. A career-low season across the board, from scoring (6.2 points per game) to minutes played (a miserable 675) to posting his first career negative net rating (a whopping -16) show that he was not anywhere near what the Grizzlies and their fans were hoping he would be. Again, the knees are the major problem, and it is hard to completely write off the Parsons contract because of what he could have been for last year’s squad if healthy. A career 37.7% three point shooter and facilitator with a 6’10” frame starting on the wing would have made the last year of Tony Allen and Zach Randolph is Memphis much more dangerous for opposing teams...
But again, that did not come to be. The worst season of his career lowered the ceiling of those Grizzlies considerably, and left a lot of doubt in the minds of many as to whether or not he can ever be what he was again.
Parsons, of course, is locked in as a starter for Memphis along with Mike Conley, JaMychal Green, and Marc Gasol. He will play on the wing, and to this point looks to be moving much better than he has at any point as a Grizzly. The summer to work on his game and ensuring he can be as healthy as possible paid off - Parsons is leaner and appears to be close to what he once was. As he ages, however, his foot speed will only continue to deteriorate. Between that and his already bad knees, his ability to play on the perimeter will continue to go down hill.
Which is why the fact that Parsons started at the 4 on Monday night against the Magic is so interesting. Grizzlies front office member John Hollinger and others have said they don’t want Chandler to play power forward that much due to the potential banging down low he could endure. However, according to basketball-reference.com he has already played a quarter of his career at the 4 and during his run with the Dallas Mavericks he played about a third of his time as a stretch big. Those two seasons in Dallas are a major reason why Memphis and other teams felt he was worth at least a large contract, if not the max.
This is probably going to be the best way to use him by the end of that contract in a couple of years, but doing it some this season would be a great use of Chandler. It negates his likely loss of movement on defense a bit, while also playing to his strengths as a shooter and facilitator. It also enables Memphis to get another athlete on the court - imagine a lineup of Mike Conley, Tyreke Evans, James Ennis III, Parsons, and Marc Gasol. Length, shooting potential, multiple ball handlers who can create for themselves and others...lots of possibilities.
JaMychal Green is entrenched as the starter at power forward, and he should be. But do not be surprised if you see a Dallas-esque split, as Parsons spends between 30-40% of his time in that stretch four spot.
2017-2018 Best Case Scenario
Parsons is what we all hoped he would be. He averages roughly 16 points per game while shooting about 47% overall from the floor and 38% from three. He posts a career high in assists per game at 4.5 and is roughly the player he was in the 2013-2014 season for the Houston Rockets. That Chandler Parsons also scored 19.3 points per game on average in Houston’s playoff series that season and showed a lot of what he is capable of when healthy.
That was three years ago, but with health, veteran understanding, and players around him like Conley and Gasol, this best case situation feels more possible than ever before. It would all but guarantee Memphis another playoff appearance and yet again make them a tough out for whoever played them. It still may not be likely, but at least it’s just a minor dream instead of a major one at this point.
2017-2018 Worst Case Scenario
Remember last season? Yeah, worse than that. But in this scenario he is able to play about 65 or so games...so what makes it worse? He just isn’t what he needs to be. The lift is gone, the explosion is gone, he becomes more of a defensive liability than ever before. He is better than last year, but closer to the production of his rookie season (9.5 points per game, 33.7% shooting from three) than any other point in his career where he was healthy.
He would essentially be a veteran on a max contract with the production of a 2nd round rookie. And hope would be dead. Worse than any other injury, the idea that he is what he is, and cannot produce even close to what the expectation is/was, would be the doomsday scenario for the Grizzlies. Thankfully at this point there’s no real reason to think this will come to pass...
But the fear is there.
At no point in my time following this team has there ever been as much pressure on one individual player to perform. Marc and Mike each had their contract seasons come and go, but their value was known in Memphis. The Grizzlies need Chandler Parsons to help make this system installed by head coach David Fizdale work at the highest level possible. When he was signed, Fizdale talked about using Parsons like LeBron James in terms of scheme and facilitation. While Parsons is nowhere near James’ league as a player, he can make a large impact on this roster. A healthy, efficient, effective Parsons would elevate Memphis and keep them relevant in the tough Western Conference.
The Grizzlies, and Chandler himself, will do everything they can to see that this happens. They already have. They have set him up for success, and Parsons has done just about everything he can to get back. He is moving and looking better, and seems to be in better spirits. These are all good things. But as far as expectations go, for Chandler it starts with that contract he signed.
He was brought in to be the third best player for Memphis. If he is indeed that, the Grizzlies can play with just about anyone in the NBA. If he is not that, after the second year of a deal where year one was a total failure, then the Grizzlies may have ruined the remaining years of Gasol and Conley’s prime together.